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Long-term care patients on James Bay coast expected to receive COVID-19 vaccine Friday

Long-term care patients and health care providers in communities along the James Bay coast are among a select few in northern Ontario to get their COVID vaccinations this week.

Widespread rollout of Moderna vaccine in First Nations expected in February

Communities along the James Bay coast could have COVID-19 vaccines ready as early as Friday. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Long-term care patients and health care providers in communities along the James Bay coast are among a select few in northern Ontario to get their COVID-19 vaccinations this week.

The Moderna version is on its way to be administered in the next couple of days, as Indigenous and remote communities have been placed high on the priority list for vaccination.

Yet, the plan to administer it to the general population in the coastal communities is uncertain.

Lynn Innes, president and CEO of the Weeneebayko Area Health Authority, the agency that covers the region from Moosonee to Peawanuck, says that vaccinations are expected to roll out as early as Friday in those communities.

But rolling out those vaccines is easier said than done.

"There's multiple logistical challenges," Innes said. "The first being is our hospital is located on Moose Factory Island."

"Once the vaccines arrive by [air ambulance service] Ornge, we have to transport them over by ice road or a helicopter to our hospital, and then we have to send them to Fort Albany and Attawapiskat."

"And again, those are remote communities and this time only accessible by air," Innes said. 

Innes estimates that in Moose Factory there are 36 LTC patients, and another 10 at an elder centre. The remaining community members are likely to receive the vaccination sometime in February, Innes said.

Lynne Innes is the president and CEO of the Weeneebayko Area Health Authority. She says there's been a little hesitancy to get the COVID-19 vaccine, but most people are thankful. (Supplied by WAHA)

Numbers weren't immediately available for how many vaccinations are expected to be administered in other remote communities, but Innes said WAHA will be working in collaboration with local Chiefs and pandemic teams to get the vaccinations to people. 

"I think with any new vaccination plan and roll out, there is a little bit of hesitancy," she said. "However, I would say the majority of people in the region are thankful that the vaccine is in our region and that we are going to be distributing it as soon as we possibly can."

Even with the optimism accompanying the news, Innes said she still has strong messaging for people in the WAHA's area.

"I believe the vaccine is safe and it's going to be an important piece to ensuring that we're stopping the spread of COVID-19, as well as increasing the safety of our communities and our region," she said. 

"But it's also equally as important to ensure everybody's following the public health measures put in place, such as staying home and washing your hands, wearing a mask and social distancing." 

Long-term care patients and health care providers in James Bay Coastal communities will receive the Moderna COVID vaccine within a day or two... but it could be February or March before it's available to others in the region. We heard more from Lynn Innes, the President and CEO of the Weeneebayko Area Health Authority. It covers the region from Moosonee to Peawanuck. 6:23

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